3What is Technology?

Martin Oliver

3.1 Introduction

Research in learning technology makes many claims about technology’s effects, but rarely asks what technology is. This is a dangerous oversight; it leaves us with inadequate accounts of the role of technology, and we risk simply cataloguing a series of outcomes without really understanding what is happening or why.

In this chapter, this issue will be explored by relating work in the field of learning technology to traditions of research where theories of technology are better developed. What this chapter will not do is simply provide lists, offering taxonomies of technologies or effects as if these solved the problem. Taxonomies of technology are either based on specific conceptions—in which case they follow from, rather than offer a basis for an understanding of technology—or else they rely on claims that are at best “common sense,” and at worst, simply naïve. Exploring the philosophical foundations of the field provides an opportunity to step back from the problem, examining the object of study from a range of perspectives in order to provide a more thoughtful basis for the chapters that follow. This enables us to stand back from specific fashions—whether they be for iPads or massive open online courses (MOOCs), Facebook or CDs—and ask why we think that any of these things is being considered as a learning technology in the first place.

To do this, first, accounts of the current field of learning technology research will be provided. ...

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